No one bats an eye when a woman walks out of the house with cut crease eyeshadow and lipstick. On the other hand, if a man does the same, everyone stares, as if makeup on a man is a spectacle. However, cosmetics can and should be gender neutral.
Makeup has its origins 6,000 years ago in ancient Egypt and has historically been used for both men and women. For example, 18th century America saw upper-class men and women alike using beauty products for eyes, lips, face and nails. In modern society, though, makeup on men is taboo.
The fact that this behavior is viewed as socially unacceptable lies equally in homophobia, toxic masculinity and misogyny. Men who use cosmetics are painted as effeminate — as if being a feminine man is a bad thing — and assumed to be homosexual. Their masculinity is attacked and their sexuality falsely branded. Conversely, cosmetic advertising has been overwhelmingly targeted to women, as the patriarchy pressures women to make themselves physically attractive to the male gaze.
These ideas have manifested themselves in conversations I’ve had with cisgender, straight men. The number of times men have said to me, “Girls have it easy. You guys can cover up ugliness with makeup” is astronomical. There are multiple things wrong with this statement, one of which is that not all women wear makeup with the intent of being prettier for male attention or satisfaction. To these men, I ask: who’s stopping you from doing the same thing you accuse women of doing?
While a lot of makeup display photos at the drugstore present only women wearing the marketed products, there is no label on a bottle of foundation or any other product that says “for female use only.” Just like women, men can use concealer to cover up blemishes or dark under-eye circles. They can wear mascara or eyeliner to create their desired eye shape. They can use gel to hold their eyebrows in place and lip balm to give their lips some color.
Men wearing makeup isn’t new — it isn’t something that entirely emerged because of recent progressive attitudes — so why should we treat it as abnormal? Pop culture music icons like David Bowie, Prince and Freddie Mercury were all known to wear makeup. Actors in Hollywood wore makeup throughout the twentieth century as well. Even today, it’s commonplace for both male and female actors to wear makeup.
Thankfully, though, society is becoming more accepting of makeup on men. Beauty brands are adjusting their advertisements with the hopes of attracting consumers that identify as male. Male YouTube influencers and beauty gurus like Patrick Starrr and Manny MUA have played a significant role in normalizing these products for men. While both of these men are part of the LGBTQ community, there are other influences drawing men to the beauty industry. For example, there are cosmetic brands designed for men specifically, such as For Men.
If you’re a man who is afraid of the makeup aisle but still wants to cover up a pimple or blemish, visit one of those brands meant for men. Still, I encourage you to shop in person and let go of the gender roles we’ve been socialized into.
Like most things in our society, makeup has been assigned a gender, when in reality, it doesn’t have one. I’m not saying that all men need to run to Walgreens and buy an eyeshadow palette. However, if a man chooses to, we need to stop thinking that it’s a commentary on his masculinity or sexuality.
Beauty products are for everyone regardless of one’s gender identity, and it’s time we normalize wearing makeup for those who have been instructed not to.
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